‘Now it’s my turn’

2016-12-28 06:01
PHOTO: ian carbutt 2014 K2 winners Sbonelo Khwela and Andy Birkett will be the favourites for the K1 title at next year’s Dusi Canoe Marathon from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

PHOTO: ian carbutt 2014 K2 winners Sbonelo Khwela and Andy Birkett will be the favourites for the K1 title at next year’s Dusi Canoe Marathon from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

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WITH the 2017 Dusi Canoe Marathon right at our doorstep, favourites Andy Birkett and Sbonelo Khwela said they were expecting the race to be another gruelling competition next year.

The 66th edition of the three-day event will start on February 16 at the Natal Canoe Club, at Camps Drift, and finish at Blue Lagoon in Durban on Saturday, February 18, over a total distance of 120 km.

The Shongweni valley star - who resumes his search of his first individual victory at the event - said his recent fourth straight victory at the 2016 Umpetha Challenge had given him good confidence ahead of the Dusi.

“Preparations are going very well even though I started a bit late in September just before the Fish River Canoe Marathon. I did well there, finishing in the top 10. Winning the Umpetha Challenge again boosted my confidence.

“I’ve always wanted to win the Dusi alone since I was introduced to the sport in 2005, but I’ve never come right there. I want to finish first next year. But, we’ll just have to see how I go on the day,” Khwela, who came a gonisingly close to maiden K1 victory in 2013, said.

When asked if he was daunted by the prospect of facing six-time Dusi champ Andy Birkett, the 28-year-old replied: “Wow, you know, we’re expecting him to defend his title and that makes it more exciting. I’m definitely looking to go for the win this time. So he must just watch out.

The pair partnered to a very impressive victory in the K2 2014, and Khwela felt it was now time for him to add the K1 title to his crown.

“The Dusi K1 race is the hardest to win. It’s always been my dream to win it. It’s every black person’s dream. We’ve all been trying but it just never happens. I’ve won the K2 race with Birkett and he won it again in 2008. So it’s my time now,” he added.

Meanwhile, race favourite Birkett - who currently has two K1 titles to his name - said he was relishing the opportunity to retain his Dusi crown.

“Preparations are going well. With the event about two months away, we’re trying to do as much training as we can. But, I’m looking forward to it. I still have a lot of work to do but I’m enjoying it so far. I do know the Dusi has got so much running in it that it’s such a different event. I still have a lot of work to do to get my running stronger. I will be defending my title but I’ll try forget about that and just take it as a separate year.”

Birkett will be the man to beat following his first Ozzie Gladwin Canoe Marathon triumph in Pietermaritzburg, and a silver medal in the men’s K1 race at the Canoe Marathon World Championships in Germany this year.

The province’s canoeing pioneer said he was looking forward to going up against his Dusi-winning partner.

“I think Sbonelo is one of the strong contenders for the Dusi. There are other guys that have shown that they’ve also got a lot of strength this year, like Thulani Mbanjwa. I’m certainly looking forward to race against Sbonelo. It’s exciting that there’s lots of competition and depth,” he concluded.

The race attracts between 1 600 and 2 000 paddlers each year.

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